Badminton

With two titles in his first year as a senior, what’s next for Lakshya Sen?

The 16-year-old won gold in two Series-level tournaments in Bulgaria and Hyderabad before reaching his first Challenge final in Mumbai at the Tata Open.

Minutes after losing the Tata Open India International Challenge final against Thailand’s Sitthikom Thammasin in Mumbai on Sunday, 16-year-old Lakshya Sen was a obliging a few kids, maybe only a few years younger than him, with photographs and selfies.

He had just blown a 21-15, 12-10 lead to lose a gruelling final that went on for an hour and 20 minutes. He had just blown a great chance to win two back-to-back tournaments in successive weeks after bagging the India International Series title in Hyderabad the previous Sunday.

It’s not uncommon to see players go into isolation after such defeats, especially in finals, but Sen looked far from dejected, as he smiled for at least 20 cameras and shook hands with dozens of well-wishers.

“He takes defeats very well,” said Sagar Chopda, one of Sen’s coaches from the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy. “It’s difficult for young players to come out of such losses but Lakshya is like, ‘Okay, I’ll try next time.’ He is very sporting.”

Chopda, however, thinks Sen should have won the match, especially considering he was just nine points away from doing so and playing well. However, his inexperience against a 22-year-old opponent cost him as he erred during crucial moments of the second and third games.

Thammasin, who had proved more than once on his road to the final that he is a very intelligent player, began attacking Sen’s body with fast and flat serves when he was trailing, which led the teenager to make mistakes while receiving.

The Thai also came out with a different game plan against Sen, who likes to take control of a match by constantly attacking. “He tends to play drives usually but today he was playing tosses and not allowing me to play the game I wanted to,” admitted Sen. “I could have done better in my decision making while playing shots.”

As Thammasin launched his fightback, Sen’s body language also took a complete turn which in turn would have given the Thai player more confidence. This is an aspect to Sen’s game that his coaches have been working on for a while. “Once the opponent won eight points in a row in the second game to turn the match, Lakshya lost the momentum but he still should have had a much better body language,” said Chopda. “The match wasn’t over yet.”

Doing well in transition

Chopda, however, isn’t too worried about what happened on Sunday. This was the junior world No 3’s first ever final in a Challenge-level tournament on the senior circuit. In a year in which he has made the transition from the junior to senior circuit, Sen won two Series-level tournaments in Hyderabad and Bulgaria.

Getting those results took its time. Sen could not go past the quarter-finals of his first few Series and Challenge-level tournaments in Thailand and Malaysia but he did not let that deter him. “I learnt a lot from those tournaments after taking on Thai and Malaysian players,” he said. “That gave me a lot of confidence to play more on the senior circuit.”

After being on the road since July, Sen will now take a two-month break from the circuit to work on other aspects of his game such as his fitness and strength. “I will train less on the court and work harder on becoming big, to gain more strength,” he said.

His exploits this year have already taken him to the cusp of breaking into the world’s top 100 in seniors. His current senior ranking is 108 and reaching his first Challenge final last week is bound to push him up a few spots when the latest rankings are announced on Thursday.

However, that is the last thing on his mind. “At this point I don’t even want to think about the rankings,” he said. “I will continue playing Series, Challenges, and then Grand Prix Gold events. If I do well, rankings will automatically follow.”

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